PA Gov. Corbett: Suspend Union Contracts Or We Shoot The Kids

In the ongoing saga of Philadelphia's strapped public schools, officials are looking to suspend existing labor rules in order to bust the unions and break the teachers.

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With less than a month left until students return to school, Philadelphia's schools are in crisis. But it's a manufactured crisis just like we've seen in every other district where the charter schools/privatization agenda is in full swing. Don't be fooled by this hostage-taking. This was the plan all along.

While Tom Corbett's $400 million prison seems to be proceeding right on schedule, Philly schools are still underfunded and facing a deficit of at least $50 million dollars. What to do?

Bust teachers' unions, of course.

Still lacking sufficient funds to open fully staffed schools on Sept. 9, Superintendent William Hite will ask the School Reform Commission to suspend parts of the state school code at a special meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday.

Many of the changes involve provisions governing labor practices. The District is seeking to bypass seniority rules as it restores positions and calls back laid-off workers. It also wants the ability to put at least a temporary halt to automatic pay increases based on longevity -- called "steps"-- for professional staff.

"We are in an untenable position," said Hite in an interview Wednesday afternoon. The requested changes, he said, will give the District more flexibility "to grapple with a budget that does not adequately support schools."

Other requested changes would allow the District to hire licensed nurses who are not specifically certified as school nurses. Hite said that no current school nurses would be displaced, but that vacancies could be filled with nurses who would not be paid as much.

Hite also wants the SRC to suspend a requirement about "independent school employees" so that teachers at the District's new virtual school would not have to be part of the collective bargaining unit.

The District is currently in negotiations with both its teacher and principal bargaining units, whose contracts expire on Aug. 31.

Got that? The district is negotiating teachers' contracts and conveniently faces a budget shortfall that will not only allow them to hire non-union teachers for less pay, but also nurses.

Oh, they whine and whine about the budget shortfall, but isn't it convenient that they're calling for a suspension of the usual rules that also happen to accomplish their bargaining goals? Too convenient.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers had a scathing response to Tom Corbett's manufactured crisis:

"Chronic lack of resources has brought this crisis to our schools, not work rule provisions in collective bargaining agreements. Parents of Philadelphia public schoolchildren should be outraged that Harrisburg is holding their education for ransom in order to force reforms that will do nothing to improve education.

When they say there is hostage-taking, they're not kidding. Governor Corbett is shameless and overt about it:

State lawmakers have also admonished Governor Tom Corbett for not yet providing $45 million in promised aid to Philadelphia schools.

The Corbett administration has said it will not provide the money without the teachers union agreeing to more than $130 million in contract concessions. A cutback union officials say they can't make.

That NBC article is a little bit gentle. Here's what Corbett and his lieutenants actually said:

Gov. Corbett emphatically rejected on Tuesday a request to release $45 million in state funds, the latest twist in the ongoing battle to resolve the Philadelphia School District's financial crisis. Corbett's budget secretary, Charles Zogby, said the money would not be available until the teachers' union signs a contract that includes substantial "fiscal savings and academic reforms."

"The law is clear," Corbett reiterated during an appearance in Chester. "Until that takes place, there can be no release of funds."

In other words, teachers, give everything up or the kids get shot. Nice work, there, Tom Corbett. There's a word for what you're doing. It's called bad-faith bargaining.

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